Saturday, July 23, 2016

Film Friday: Concussion (2015)

For some time now, a cadre of hard-left journalists looking for a modern Civil Rights cause to claim as their own have been waging a war against the NFL. Joining this cause is the film Concussion. It tanked in theaters, earning only $48 million on its production budget of $57 million, and it did so for a reason: the film sucks, in addition to being pure propaganda.

Rather than outlining the plot, let me start by telling you why this film sucked. Putting aside the issue of it being pure propaganda, this is just not a good film. The film is morose at best – the direct thinks it’s ironically tense. There are no good moments. There are no moments of inspiration and no moments of genuine outrage. There are no exciting moments either; everything was dull. There are no peaks or valleys. The colors are dull. The acting of Will Smith was dull (his wife was full of bullship to claim he didn’t get an award because of racism). The story is dull. Every scene involves people standing or sitting in a room talking until they reach the conclusion you knew was coming all along. The film even deals with a couple suicides and yet presents those in about as dull a manner possible.
What I really want to talk about though is how biased this film was. This film turns you off quickly unless you are a true believer.

The film follows Dr. Bennet Omala (Will Smith), a forensic pathologist with the Allegheny County coroner’s office in Pittsburgh. Omala is a Nigerian American and he was the first to discover chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This is a medical condition which results in destructive proteins attacking the brain’s tissue after repeated traumatic blows to the head, i.e. concussions.

The film opens showing Omala testifying in court to save a wrongly convicted man from the death sentence. He begins by modestly listing his credentials. This goes on several minutes and is meant to get the audience to believe that (1) Omala is ultra-qualified in and beyond his field and (2) he is humble and should be liked. He then tells us why the convicted man could not have been the killer. His analysis is simple to grasp and demonstrates that Omala thinks about things others ignored and has a gift for seeing obvious things that people with a political interest, e.g. prosecutors, either intentionally or recklessly overlook. We also learn that his primary motivating trait in life is to save people.

In other words, he’s a saint.
Not convinced yet? Ok. In the next scene, a priest asks Omala to take in and look after a young woman who has just come from Africa and needs a home. He agrees, of course. And when he brings her to his home, he even takes her luggage from her so she need not carry it. He is a saint after all.

Still not sure? Ok. His boss at the hospital warns him that he needs to be more willing to go with the crowd and to stop being so gosh darn pure.

By this point, the film has cast Omala as the ultimate unimpeachable source. We’ve seen his noble, humble bearing. Everyone else in the film will slouch. We’ve heard his credentials which are absolutely nothing special, but which are presented as amazing. Of course, we will hear no one else’s credentials, as the film wants you to see him as the only expert. We’ve learned he acts only with the most selfless of motives. With every other character, we are constantly reminded of their economic interest. Even a man in the streets we are told doesn’t want his city’s investment in a football stadium wasted.

Next the film sets up the conflict, and it does so in the most strawman of manners. When Omala discovers CTE, his medical bosses immediately threaten to suspend him and deny him any chance to move forward to confirm his diagnosis. Why? They're scared. Everyone is on the NFL’s payroll and doctors are too terrified to go against the NFL – characters even whisper when discussing things the NFL won’t like. Indeed, we are assured that the NFL is so powerful that it “owns a day of the week.” Its stadiums are the heart of cities like Pittsburgh. To destroy football would bring the wrath of millions of fans. Of course, the fact that CTE wouldn’t destroy football at all is never mentioned. Nor is the fact that the players union is intensely contentious against the NFL and would happily use this against the NFL. In the story, they are beholden to the NFL.

Moreover, the world is dangerously pro-NFL. Everywhere Omala goes, he causally makes some mention of the Steelers only to have average citizens verbally attack him.
Fortunately, Omala is allowed to continue his research by his brave boss who warns him that they better win or the NFL will destroy them. Suddenly, Omala is being followed by cars. He’s being mocked in the press, getting hateful phone calls, and being told to leave America because he’s clearly not one of us. And then the FBI shows up to arrest his brave boss on trumped up charges that Omala lets us know wouldn’t even fly in corrupt Nigeria – never mind that his boss was really arrested on fraud charged three months before Omala goes public with the CTE issue.

They threaten Omala and basically demand that he testify falsely against his boss or he will be charged as well. He refuses and instead agrees to resign and go away. They then threaten to deport him.
At this point, we also learn from an insider that the NFL knows about the CTE issue! Sacre bleu! In fact, they studied it, but their methods get mocked, even though their methods seem more thorough that Omala’s. The evil NFL wants people to die! And once again, the other doctors Omala tries to get to help him tell us how much the NFL provides to communities, so no one will go against it. They’re all complicit!

Here’s the thing. CTE could be real. It makes sense to me and I personally suspect it’s true. But this movie was so obnoxious that it had me wanting to see Omala fail. The film canonizes Omala at every turn. He has no flaws. It feels the need to make him unimpeachable as a professional, beyond biased, noble of heart, and nice to the point of meekness... a longtime indicator of propaganda is when the hero is meek.

At the same time, it not only demonizes those who oppose Omala, but it creates this bizarre world where average people act like they are going to hunt him in the streets if he reveals the dirty secret everyone knows but pretends isn’t real.
Now, again, I don’t doubt that the NFL was resistant to this idea. But the film goes further than that and essentially suggests that the NFL knows about CTE and is covering up by blackmailing every doctor, hospital, expert and politician in the country. This is bullship. It’s the kind of paranoid garbage leftists buy into when they are shocked to discover that people don’t accept their issues.

The film also presents a purely biased point of view. Obvious counter points get excluded. The credentials of competing experts are ignored and their supposed bias gets announced. In a rather dirty moment, they present David Duerson as an NFL hack who mocks the players with CTE until one kills himself, until Duerson kills himself when he too gets it. His family denies that Duerson ever did this.
They also never present contrary evidence. This film draws a connection between CTE and suicide, and dwells on several suicides... which it telescopes as if they all happen at once even though they are years apart. However, the CDC itself examined the health of NFL players. It found that NFL players are 42% less likely to die from cancer, 86% less likely to die from tuberculosis, and 59% less likely to die from suicide. And despite the film showing at least three and maybe more suicides as if they happened within weeks of each other, the CDC found that between 1959 and 1988, only nine former players killed themselves.

I’m not saying that advocacy films need to be unbiased, but there is a point where things go from being advocacy to being glaringly one-sided to being total smears. This film was a smear, and that hurt it tremendously. Having seen it, I am left wondering why this was even a film rather than a documentary. I am left wondering why the film was so shady too about a theory that seems to make sense and appears to be supported by lots of evidence. Are they hiding something?

That’s the problem. This is a propaganda piece for true believers and no one else. No wonder it failed. Thoughts?
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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Toon-a-Rama Tuesday: Wolf Children (2012)

“This is a story about my mother, and it’s true. Every word of it.”

One of the great things about the speculative fiction genre of sci-fi and fantasy is that it allows you to tell stories about everyday life in very exciting ways. At its heart, director Mamoru Hosoda’s 2012 animated movie Wolf Children is the story of a single-mom struggling to raise her 2 children after their father, who is referred to only as the Wolfman, dies. It’s just that here, the two children happen to be werewolves.

What makes Wolf Children especially unique is that it really is a slice-of-life story, about the day-to-day lives of the main characters. That means no over-arching villains. The closest you have to an external threat is the fear of the children’s true nature being found out, but it’s not like there are any government agents looking for them. Instead, the movie is simply about the trials of parenthood and growing up, as seen through the eyes of a rather unique family.

What’s even more amazing is that Wolf Children pulls it off.

The movie is told by the daughter who begins the story with the future mother, Hana, in college where, one day, she sees a mysterious young man in a plain t-shirt and pants. Eventually, they grow close and fall in love, prompting him to reveal his secret to her; he is a werewolf and is the last of his kind. He quickly dispels the stuff about full moons, silver, and the rest as “dusty myths and bad movies.” He simply transforms into a wolf, at will, at any moment, daylight or nighttime.

They soon have a daughter, our narrator, named Yuki, and one year later she becomes pregnant again. Unfortunately, before the boy is born the father dies (in a truly heart-wrenching scene), leaving her to care for Yuki and her soon-to-be-born son, Ame. And, if raising human children on your own is a headache then just imagine raising children who can shift from human to wolf to human to wolf at a moment’s notice.



Hana struggles to raise her two children. In many ways, it’s a fairly normal story of a single mom, only again, her children are “wolf children.” For example, she has to deal with the question of whether to take her children to the Vet or to the hospital and, when the obvious difficulties of raising wolf children in a city become too much, she moves to the Japanese countryside. And that is the first 30 minutes of a roughly 115-minute movie.

From here on out the movie’s focus becomes less Hana’s struggles as a single mom, though it’s still a huge focus, and more about how Ame and Yuki handle growing up. That means you have things like first day of school, making friends or struggling to make friends, and so on. As I said, it’s about their day-to-day lives.

Now, it would be very easy for this movie to become slow or episodic. Instead, the movie is as engrossing as can be. That, I think, is because the movie’s conflict derives largely from two questions: First, obviously, is “Will Hana succeed as a single mom?” Will she manage to raise her kids well and will she end happy, or at least contented, with how the kids turned out?

The second question drives the kids’ storyline and it is one posed to a toddler-aged Yuki early on in the movie: “Would you rather be wolves or people?” Ame and Yuki are growing up with essentially two separate aspects of themselves that must be reconciled, their wolf side and their human side. So, the movie asks, will they live at the end as wolves or people? Or will one choose to live as a wolf and the other as a human?

This means the movie is also a coming-of-age story for the two children and therefore every scene involving the children, at least the ones in the country, raise questions, the answers to which move the two children closer to their respective answers to that big question. How will they do in school? Can they make friends? With whom will they choose to make friends? Will they find a friend or friends who can accept them for who they are? And will they be happy with where they are? This, of course brings us back to Hana because the answers to those questions, especially that last one, will tell Hana whether or not she has succeeded as a single-parent.

These questions are rather moot if you don’t really care enough about the characters. Fortunately, the characters are handled quite well.

The children, Yuki and Ame, in their mannerisms, behavior, and dialogue come across like real children. Further, as younglings they both act exactly as you would expect a toddler/puppy. They cry (or howl) in the middle of the night, run around as if they’d been given IV shots of sugar, and chew on, well, everything in sight. Then, as they grow older and start to come into their own as wolves or people, it does not feel forced. Because their personalities are both well-established by the half-way point (Yuki, being an out-going extrovert, and Ame, a shy introvert) their choices about who and what they want to be flow naturally from the story. It’s hard to think of a moment where I thought, “this is how the director/writer thinks children behave.” Nothing felt artificial.

Then there is Hana, who is probably one of the best movie moms I have ever seen. She gets points for her determination alone. There are movie moms who can dual-wield pistols or who can do karate movies like a martial arts master while others can lift 20 tons as if it weighed a feather, but I doubt many of those could hold a candle to the maternal awesomeness that is Hana. This woman never quits. Without a boast, brag, or complaint she perseveres through all her obstacles to raise her kids the best she can. The movie never feels the need to tell us she is awesome because we know it and we admire her because of it.

And the movie doesn’t shy away from the fact that with the death of Wolfman, she might as well be hopping around on one leg. Even though he dies less than a quarter of the way into the movie his presence, as well as the lack of it, is felt constantly throughout the movie. And from the glimpses we had of him early in the picture, it is clear he would’ve been a fine dad. So, in a way, this movie is not just a coming-of-age drama and a motherhood film, it’s also a love story, too, and a good one.

By the end of the movie we feel whatever Hana is feeling. When she is crying, we are crying. When she is happy, we are happy. We want things to turn out well for her. We want her to have a happy ending. And what more can you ask?

The technical aspects are near flawless. The animation is wonderful. Now, Tristan Gallant, the Youtuber behind the anime review series Glass Reflection, who loved the movie, has pointed out that the animation style is rather rougher than most, saying that “the farther a character is from the camera the less distinction they have to the point where some of the characters don’t even have faces.”

Whether this was due to budget constraints or not I don’t know but if it was, they spent their money well. Because of the characters’ body language as well as their placement in the frame, and everything in the frame itself, not to mention the voice acting and the superb score (more on that in a bit) the movie nearly always managed to convey whatever emotions and information it needed to. In short, when the emotional demands of the story permitted it, rougher animation was used and when the story demanded more, such as the ending or the amazing scene of Yuki and Ame running through the snow, it was as finely detailed as anything out of Studio Ghibli.

The score composed by Takagi Masakatsu is probably one of the best movie soundtracks I’ve heard in a long, long while. There are two requirements for a soundtrack to be great and it hits both of them. The first is that it perfectly complement and enhance whatever is being shown on screen. Tracks like “Nene” have a bouncy, upbeat theme for the scenes of their childhood antics while the more tender, lullaby-like tunes such as “Lullaby in the Peaceful Light” fit Hana's storyline and development perfectly. Also, there are lush, orchestral themes to fit the bigger, more sweeping moments of the movie.

The other requirement is that the score makes for great listening separate from the movie. And here, Wolf Children knocks it out of the park. Much of the soundtrack makes for great listening on a long drive or when I’m just trying to relax. In fact, I’m listening to it while I’m writing this review. I recommend “Maternity Sky,” “Kito Kito - Dance of Your Nature,” “All the Warm Lives,” and “Home After Rain.” “Mother’s Song,” which plays during the end credits, is good too, despite being in Japanese.

Walt Disney once said that “For every smile there should be a tear.” Wolf Children, with a story that is both fantastic and immediately relatable, has plenty of both. By the end you will be crying but you’ll be smiling too. And you’ll walk away with a warm, tender feeling that will last you long after the credits have finished rolling.



Wolf Children is available on DVD and Blu-Ray at Amazon.com: LINK.

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Film Friday: The BFG (2016)

When Steven Spielberg announced he was turning Roald Dahl’s book The BFG into a movie, I suspect a lot of people had the same reaction I did: “huh… I never heard of it.” But kids movies are big business and Spielberg is a talented director and a lot of the people who do know this book currently have kids, so I assumed it would be huge. But it wasn’t. And I know why it wasn't.

The Plot

The BFG is a kids story from the 1980’s. It involves a giant who roams Britain at night blowing dreams into the rooms of little kids. Why he does this isn’t very clear except that he captures dreams and then seems to like dispensing them to some kids because that gives him charm.

One night, this giant is spotted by a little girl who lives in an orphanage. Her name is Sophie, and she’s an insomniac. In a panic, the giant grabs the girl and takes her with him back to giant country. He does this because he’s afraid that humans would hunt the giants if they knew that the giants existed. As an aside, the other giants are all cruel, “cannibals” (they eat humans). The BFG eats rotten vegetables.
After the kidnapping, we learn that the giant is a moron. He makes up words and gets confused – some of the words will be familiar from Willy Wonka. He also no think good, but that’s ok because he’s a comfortable cliché. He’s the simple working man/janitor who dispenses wisdom... earthy wisdom... magic negro wisdom. He also can’t get enough of telling us just how stupid his is.

Anyways, the moron and little girl go through the motions of fearing each other and then become fast friends. We also learn he calls himself The Big Friendly Giant, and likes the way some kid he previously kidnapped shortened that to the BFG. So the girl calls him that and all is well.

But there is a problem. See, even though this giant is nice and cuddly, it turns out that there are other giants who are much bigger and much nastier and they kidnap and eat children. What’s more, the other giants have come to suspect that the moron has a human stashed somewhere.
The BFG realizes that he can’t protect the girl and he decides to return her to the human world. But that won’t work so the girl comes up with a plan to solve their problem. They visit the queen of England and get her to authorize a military strike against the evil giants. She does and the day is saved.

Meh

I’m actually a little torn about this film. On the hand, this film is beautifully shot. The effects are fantastic and believable. The acting is good. The story moves along at a good pace. There is little I can fault throughout the film. It’s even quite earnest and without cynicism... something I really do appreciate. So overall, I see where this film should have been a huge success and part of me wants to tell you to go see it.
Sigh.

But story matters and this story just never got interesting.

At no point does this story ever reach any sort of climax, and that makes the film dull. Take the meeting with the giant. Sophie gets taken by the giant. She gets dragged to his cave. In the cave, she hides from him, but he always knows where she is... so there’s no drama. The giant says he will keep her forever. She resists at first, but she’s an orphan with nowhere to go... no drama. Then she decides she wants to stay, though the BFG has done nothing to earn it... no drama. Now the BFG wants to return her, except we already know the bad guys know about her, so he can’t leave her... no drama.
Then Sophie comes up with a plan to go to the queen and convince her to attack the other giants. Before she goes, we meet the queen and see that she’s the nicest, most caring woman on the planet and it would be impossible for her not to help anyone in need. So there is no drama when Sophie makes her sales pitch. Then the queen calls out the military. She gives a command that is so simple that the film's writing is telegraphing that the plan can’t fail. Sure enough, right before the soldiers attack, all but the worst giant get knocked out of the fight with bad dreams. That makes the fight a walkover. And almost the moment the soldiers attack, it's over. No drama.

The key to any good story is to keep the audience unsure of what will happen next. Be it the outcome of a fight or battle, the need for reconciliation between two characters, the roll of a dice or the execution of a plan, the more uncertain the audience is of the success of the character they want to win, the greater the tension and the more the audience will be interested. Yet, at every single turn, The BFG telegraphs how a particular conflict will be resolved basically at the point it is mentioned.
Ernest Hemingway was brilliant in many ways. His two most important skills were his ability to make the complex seem incredibly simple (something imitators don’t understand) and the way he could take a simple point of conflict in a story and torture you by stretching it out. For Whom The Bell Tolls, for example, starts with a man who is about to explode a bridge. It seems like the bridge is going to explode in the next sentence. But it doesn’t. Instead, Hemingway spirals away to tell his story, always using the about-to-be-exploded bridge as a way to tell his story and ratcheting up the tension the whole time. Spielberg in BFG completely misses that. There is nothing that isn't resolved the moment it first gets mentioned and Spielberg spends the film defusing such tension before he even tells you there is tension.

This is why the film comes across as so utterly dull. Imagine being shown a football game, but first being handed a list containing the details of every score. How exciting would that game be? It’s the same thing here.

It’s sad. This was a film with tremendous potential. All the pieces were there, and Spielberg knows how to tell a story. This time, however, he failed... and the blame really does lie with him.
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Monday, July 4, 2016

Why 60's Films Annoy Me

There is such a fraud to movies from the 1960’s. You know the ones I mean... anything starring Dustin Hoffman, films like Midnight Cowboy, The Graduate, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Easy Rider, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, anything connected to Polanski, Capote, Warhol, etc. What fraud, you ask? This...

You know how these films work. The story begins with some normal middle class young man, like Benjamin Braddock. He’s going about his life, being bullied by his father and manipulated by his mother. They don’t care about him, they care about appearances.

This normal young man, however, isn’t sure he wants to fit into this conformist world his parents have built. He believes in art and literature and beauty, unlike the troglodyte society around him. He believes in twue wove, er, true love, not passionless marriages of convenience, like his parents have. He wants freedom to run his own life. And he feels morally superior to his repressed, racist, conformists square parents.

As he meanders through the film, he learns that his parents are messed up. Yep, that’s dad in panties snorting coke off the belly of a male gigolo as mom deep throats the biker gang. How disgusting they are! All these hypocrite conformists are secret perverts!

Then he meets the beautiful, clean, well-educated, smart hippie chick. She's the one who clues him in that he just needs to do something anti-social to find his freedom. The moment he does, of course, the authorities grab him. They will not tolerate a man breaking petty rules! If Nazi-lite society is to succeed, then everyone must follow every rule to the insane letter, regardless of how unjust or stupid the rule is. They put him on trial, where a room full of white, boring, conformist males knowingly refuse to accept the truth and they punish him for being different.

That’s when the movie usually ends.

This is all hypocritical bullsh*t, and that bothers me. Observe.

First, keep in mind that none of these actors/writers are really normal middle class young man. Most came from upper-class NYC families and attended elite schools you never will. Many turned out to be homosexuals or communist fellow travelers. Almost all were drug addicts. So them pretending to be normal middle-class people who've soured on their own world is as fraudulent as if I claimed to be a normal black woman and then I wrote a scathing critique of black mother-daughter relationships.

Next, the 60’s generation claimed to be attacking the white, conservative conformist world of the 1950’s. But the 1950’s was when the Civil Rights Era really began as a white American project. It was a time when vast numbers of people started going to college, left the farms for the cities, left the cities for the suburbs, when Americans began traveling the world, when America became an idealistic world policeman and neutered the British and French colonial empires. A highway system was built to connect every backwater in the country, planes and television connected the world and world culture. It was a time of surreal and abstract art, and the adoption of black music as Rock and Roll by the public. Books were written attacking every institution. Tennessee Williams and a dozen others were already well on their way by the early 1950's to slandering all normal people as crazy perverts in stifling familial or marriage relationships. It was a time of massive upheaval, the shattering of ancient taboos and laws, a massive expansion of personal freedom, and the adoption of a new worldview. The only conformity was massive change everywhere.

Moreover, while this group of 60’s armchair heroes claimed to be inspired by art and literature and beauty, their generation produced very little of it that was worth remembering. The reason was they were happy to shout about their need for "freedom," but they got very lazy when it came time to actually exercising it. And by the time this generation hit the 1980s, they became ultra-conformists.

No doubt, I don’t need to mention the irony that a supposedly Nazi-like society of conformists should sprout a generation of “free thinkers” and support them through their silly childhood tantrums. Not a gulag, a re-education camp, or a column of tanks to put down protesters in sight.

And speaking of loveless marriages, what do these people know of love? The 60’s generation has a divorce rate that is more than double every other generation before and since. So you can look at all that talk about being against the passionless marriages of their parents as just that... talk. Marriage to them was entertainment and their spouses were just rentals.

Speaking of their parents, doesn’t it bother anyone that they attack the “conformist generation” for being secretly kinky –- gays, drug users, perverts -- when this is who they were themselves? Pot calling the kettle black much? What's more, weren't they calling for these things to be accepted? How can you mock someone for doing what you claim should be acceptable?

Finally, we come to the last bit of hypocrisy... the trial. This scene typically involves boring, white, conformist males refusing to see the truth which was so heavy-handedly jammed into audience faces and wanting to bring down the gavel of justice like a sledgehammer. But is that truly reflective of the prior generation? Hardly. The 1950's was the beginning of the era of the over-the-top, insane expansion of criminal rights and the shattering of government regulation of morality and petty crimes. Free speech was broadened to include whatever the hell you wanted, including graffiti, flag burning and anything else. Obscenity was made legal - Playboy was formed in 1953. The regulation of sex was essentially banned in any form.

This was the era where petty criminals were returned to society with a hearty handshake and an apology for being inconvenienced. It got so bad that films like Dirty Harry were written in response and a nationwide campaign began to unseat these judges and undo the damage they had done. It was a time when a single dissenting atheist could destroy decades old Christmas displays, when adultery was legalized, when psychology replaced morality. It was never what gets portrayed in these films.

That's why these films bother me. To put it simply, a bunch of rich-kid drug addicts were pretending to be straight-laced Americans shocked to find "their" values to be so oppressive, while making films attacking a totalitarian America that never existed and smugly demanding changes that were already long-since underway. As their reasons, they cited ideas they never believed themselves and which they would disavow once it no longer suited them.

Hypocrisy is truly ugly.

Thoughts?
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Monday, June 27, 2016

Guest Review: Intersellar (2014)

by Koshcat

I am of two minds when it comes to Interstellar the science fiction drama directed by Christopher Nolan: I liked it but the forced tensions bug me.

Overall the basic plot is simple. Crop blight is slowly destroying Earth’s crops and threatening humanity with starvation and lack of oxygen. Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA pilot, now widower farmer trying to raise two kids. A message from a “ghost” to his daughter leads him to a secret program to find a new planet for colonization.

A wormhole mysteriously appears near Saturn that allows passage to a distant galaxy where Professor Brand (Michael Caine) has sent 12 volunteers to find a suitable planet. They have transmitted that there are three promising sites near a black hole. There are two plans for colonization: A) move everyone from Earth to the new planet and B) repopulate the new planet with frozen embryos. Professor Brand is trying to work out plan A but the math doesn’t compute.

Cooper’s daughter, Murphy, joins Professor Brand in hopes of deriving the right formula but she needs the information hidden inside a black hole. Mr. Cooper agrees to pilot the spaceship with hopes of quickly finding the right planet and then returning to his family. Due to relativity, what takes Cooper months turns into decades back home. The first two planets turn out to be duds and Cooper sacrifices his life to push his crew mate Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), who is Professor Brand’s daughter, to the third and eventually suitable planet. His sacrifice is to fall into the blackhole where he is able to learn the secret formula and transmit it to his daughter as the “ghost” allowing the rest of humanity to be saved.
SPOILER ALERT

Why I liked this film, despite the gargantuan plot holes, is it focused more on the story and characters rather than the CGI to move the plot. The characters have fear and despair but other still have hope. Nobody is evil for evil’s sake. The closest “bad guys” might either be Professor Brand or Dr. Mann (Matt Damon), one of the first 12 astronauts. Professor Brand has faked the calculations for years because he has decided it is physically impossible to implement plan A. Plan B was the plan all along but lied to Cooper so he would leave his family in hopes of finding a new place for them. This isn’t from a place of evil but a decision out of despair and rationality. Dr. Mann is trapped on an inhospitable planet to die alone and has been transmitting false data. He is afraid, weak, and a coward and tries to kill Cooper to get off the planet. His decision is based on irrationality not evil intent. There is no greedy politician trying to control the Earth or multinational company trying to get rich. And any movie that makes Matt Damon look like a dick is ok with me.

The CGI is beautiful and acts as a backdrop rather than the central plot. The story behind the development of the black hole is fascinating as the most up to date theoretical equations where entered into the rendering software which then developed the visual effect (LINK). Finally, how many movies can discuss and show the theory of relativity and still keep people in their seats? This is what true Sci-Fi should look like.
What distracts me from the movie is the unnecessary and forced conflicts. Let’s start with the blight. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of biology knows that a disease that attacks completely different species is extremely rare to the point of impossibility. For the billions spent on building spaceships and sending people through wormholes, couldn’t they have built self-contained cities? It is also unlikely a blight would effect the plants underwater, wouldn’t it be easier to live there? How about just developing plants immune to the blight? Maybe they shouldn’t be so anti-GMO.

The next is the lying by Professor Brand. Why does he need to lie? Why can’t he just say that he can’t complete the formula without more information? Another is Murphy being so pissed at her dad for leaving that she won’t speak to him for decades and then accuses him of lying to her about the possibility of his never returning. I understand being angry and sad that her dad left, but couldn’t that emotion be better served to get him back? Eventually it does but her resentments simmers for years and seems like wasted energy. There is also tension between Murphy and her brother, Tom (Casey Affleck), that doesn’t seem to make any sense. Why did Tom punch her boyfriend who only wanted to help his family? If Tom had given up on life, why was he still farming? Why does Casey, a much better actor, get less attention than Ben?
Another issue is why do the robots have a sense of humor level? An honesty level? I would want my robot helpers to be boring and brutally honest. Having the potential planets around a blackhole leads to interesting scientific dilemmas, but seems like a terrible place to find a new home. Dr. Mann lying about the planet so he wouldn’t die alone makes sense to me, but killing the other astronauts doesn’t. It leads to a great scene where Cooper has to stabilize the ship, but I guess a simple malfunction or stray asteroid wouldn’t have provided enough tension. Finally, the whole scene inside the blackhole is all dues ex machina and Cooper’s return was, frankly, lame.

I watched it a second time with my wife and kids. My wife and daughter where crying through the whole movie and were irritated at the end despite the happy ending. I found this to be interesting. This movie touches and pulls on a lot of emotional strings, which a good movie should, but perhaps it was too much? I like the movie more than I disliked it because Nolan at least seems to understand that a good movie is dependent on story and characters and not how many spaceships are moving behind Yoda.

Thoughts?
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Friday, June 24, 2016

Film Friday: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

With the Brexit, I thought it would be a good time to review Captain America: Civil War. Oy vey. Where to being? How’s this: I really disliked this film.

Let me start by saying that I’m not the biggest fan of most comic book movies. Many lack depth and interesting characters, and they try to hide this by substituting tired recycled plot points, pathetic teenage-level family “issues,” and a CGI frosting that lasts so long you want to claw your way out of the theater exit to escape.

That said, there have been definite instances where these films have been done right. These are films that involve clever new plot twists, genuine characters with real relationships, and typically a strong sense of humor. The Avengers, like the Iron Man movies and the X-Men films, have generally fallen into this category. DC films, the putrid Fantastic Four and the Hulk movies have generally fallen into the other category.
During Captain America: Civil War, there is a fight at an airport in Germany where the two competing camps of Avengers do battle. Iron Man and his team have come to capture Captain America and his team. The fight is fun to watch. It’s surprising. It’s really funny at times. It highlights the genuine relationships between the characters. And it lets the actors flex the character muscles we have come to love.

The rest of the movie is a dark, depressing pile of sh*t that made me want to walk out.

Plot

Turn down the lights and suck the color rods from your eyes, because this is one of those films done in a brown and dark blue pallet. I thought we were rid of that crap, but apparently not. The film begins with a fight you can’t watch because it’s all shaky cam. Apparently, some guy decides to blow up some disease center in Africa (as if) so he can steal a killer virus. But his real plan seems to be to get captured and blow up Captain America. At the time, this makes sense, but it won’t if you think about it later.

Indeed, let me give you the plot in a nutshell. Some guy’s father was killed off-screen in Age of Ultron. Guy decides to blow things up, in the hopes that the Avengers will kill innocent people in the process, which will lead the UN to decide to force the Avengers to accept evil bosses, which will result in the Avengers splitting into two camps who will then fight to the death after Captain America decides to save his frenemie Bucky the Winter Soldier while Iron Man decides to try to kill him. Why go this Rube Goldberg way? Because no one but an Avenger can kill an Avenger.
See any holes in that one? How about every single thought.

Anyways, the guy blows stuff up, the UN is given power over the Avengers, there’s some fake talk about what is right, and Captain America and Iron Man split. The rest of the movie is a chase scene as Iron Man hunts down Captain America’s team and makes them all look sad in prison while we are constantly lectured about all the people who died that the Avengers didn’t care about.
The whole thing ends up in a CGI ice cave as we learn that the whole plot was a red herring just to make the Avengers fight. Yeah, ok.

Why I Really Disliked This Film

This movie is visually and spiritually dark. It is a nine hour two-hour-thirty-minute finger wag in your face stupidly accusing the heroes you have come to like of being cold-blooded murders. Not one single character throughout this film ever points out the millions of lives they’ve saved. Not one character outside the Avengers ever supports them at any point in this film. Not one single character ever gives a speech telling you why it is important that the Avengers be allowed to save people’s lives without first having to clear every sh*t they take with the UN. Even after the UN bureaucrats start imposing Nazi-like surveillance, sanctioning torture, and locking up the Avengers for disobedience no one suggests that they are wrong.
Only Captain America stands against them (with a couple blind followers) and all he does is whine about how bad he feels for everyone he’s killed.
Other than that happiness, the film is a depressing CGI assault of buildings being blown up by terrorist bombs or Avenger mistakes. The UN guys are monsters. The themes we run into over and over are “you killed my family and you don’t even know who they were!”... saw that a dozen times. Or you have Avengers admitting that they can’t control themselves. Or you have Bucky and Captain America talking about how bad things have gotten. Or you have Iron Man dealing with the death of his mother and father, which it turns out is a secret Captain America kept from Stark. You have Iron Man losing Pepper. Cap dealing with the death of Peggy Carter. The Black Panther dealing with the death of his father. How about Don Cheadle being paralyzed? Not a moment of this film, other than the airport, is light-hearted. It is an unrelenting downer trafficking in death, destruction and regret.
What’s worse, it’s all stolen! The film style was taken from Jason Bourne, as were the locations... all of them. The public turning against superheroes for the deaths they cause without thinking about the lives they save is so worn it should be considered abuse to use it. So is the weapon’s lab in the ice cave. Seen the prison too. Seen the vet recovering from being crippled. Seen the dead mentor, the “you killed my parents!,” the “you didn’t even care” and all the other “conflicts” too. Nothing in this film felt original. Nor did it feel organic.

A lot of people compared this film to Batman v. Superman, but that’s actually not the right comparison. This film is not Batman v. Superman... it’s Watchmen. This is a film about a group of corrupted superheroes who do the corrupt government’s bidding and find themselves banned because they scare people and now live in a dark cynical world.

Between this, the angry Fantastic Four and the trend toward “adult” (read: 30 year old man-child) storylies, this all bodes poorly for Marvel, which has seems intent on ending a golden age premised on films built around the interactions of fun, likeable characters as they fight villains who are destined to lose.
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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Comic-Con Advice and Thoughts

Howdy everyone! As you know, I just finished my first trip ever to a Comic-Con! I thought I would share some thoughts and tips with you in case you ever decide to go yourselves. So here are a couple thoughts...

First, some tips:

1. Get your tickets in advance. We had three days passes, so we had no problems. But Saturday sold out, and many people did get turned away. They had over 100,000 people on Saturday.
2. Bring a bag with some food and water in it. We had a Doctor Who/Tardis backpack! 😊 By and large, there was little food there to buy and the lines were VERY long. It wasn't as expensive as I expected, but getting to it was a pain. Drinks were about $2.50 each. Food was around $9 for a sandwich.

3. We stayed about five blocks away and walked. That was easiest. Parking near the Convention Center was a mess. We also could have taken the light rail, but we wanted to walk. We didn't try to drive in because it was just insane.

4. About half the people were in costume. You will see everything. We saw dinosaurs, daleks (a wheelchair costume), anime characters, movie characters, etc. There were dozens of Doctor Whos. Girls seemed to gravitate toward quasi-sexy anime characters, guys seemed to gravitate toward things in armor. There were people dressed like several musicians -- Prince, David Bowie, Meatloaf, the Beatles. There was a Carmen Sandiego. Tons of Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who, anime. The most common costume was Deadpool for males and Harley (from Batman) for girls. That said, weight, body type, gender didn't matter, everyone was cool with anything. Whatever people wore, everyone liked it... and the self-made costumes were the most popular. I didn't hear one negative word from anyone all weekend about the costumes. And everyone we ask to take their picture was thrilled that we asked.

I would estimate the crowd was about 50/50 male to female, of all races, and there were lots of father/son and mother/daughter combos there -- in and out of costume. One of the cutest moments was a father/son Batman and Robin walking down the hallway together.
5. When you sign up, they should send you a link to an app with a schedule (they also have them in paper at the door). Look through it and figure out if you are interested in anything. We found that the BIG events were hardest to get into, but the smaller ones were no problem at all. My daughter got to meet several anime voice actors, a guy who taught us the basic phonetics of Japanese, and sat through some "how to" classes on cosplay and animation with no difficulty at all. That said, getting in to see Stan Lee proved impossible.

If they have a super special guest (like Stan Lee) and you want to get an autograph, it would be best to buy a VIP pass if they have them. There were only about 20 people around Stan Lee with VIP passes, but then well over 5,000 tried to see him at the public signing.

6. We enjoyed walking through the sale/merchandise floor (I would guess it was six high school gyms wide and three long). The seminars were great too -- wish we had gone to more of those. But the coolest thing was just seeing the costumes. For that, you can walk around, OR you can find some spot in the main hallway and everyone will walk right past you... several times. I estimate we walked about five miles a day, by the way. So keep that in mind. There were girls there doing it in major heels and I felt pretty bad for them by the end of the day. But you really can just find a place to sit and see a large part without all the walking we did.
7. It looks like a lot of the cosplay stuff takes place in the evenings, by the way. We plan to see more of that next time -- we were wiped out by six each night this time.

Finally, some thoughts.

We had an amazing time. It was really neat to see so many people just enjoying themselves. Half the crowd (or maybe even more) was women. A sizable chunk was black or Hispanic. There were some obviously gay people there too. All ages were represented as well. There were parents with kids, groups of friends, and even some single people. And the best thing of all... everyone got along happily. There was no anger. Everyone was polite and courteous. Everyone was happy to see everyone. There was immense creativity too. Not only in the costumes, but in the products people sold or displayed, and in hearing people talk about whatever "project" they had going in their lives (people walking around as well as people on stage).

So I highly recommend going to Comic-Con and just being a part of that world. It's the way society should be, and it shows how society can be.
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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Film Friday: The Jungle Book (2016)

Disney has been "re-imagining" their classic animated films as live action films of late. Most have done really well at the box office, though frankly, undeservedly so. As a general rule, they've been poor copies of the originals with a few nods to modern cynicism and washed out storytelling. The Jungle Book is better than most, but not by much. It is an enjoyable film, but it underscores the problems with modern Hollywood.

Plot

By and large, the Disney re-imaginings have followed the storylines of the original animated films. There are changes around the edges and new themes and angles added, but generally, these have been re-tellings of the same story. Jungle Book falls into that same category and it mostly follows the original story. The story begins by introducing Mowgli as a member of the wolf pack. There is a drought. The animals all gather around a disappearing watering hole and call a water truce. At that point, Shere Kahn (Idris Elba) appears and says he will kill Mowgli because the script calls for it.
The wolves decide that the only safe place for Mowgli is the human village. Bahgeera (Ben Kingsley) agrees to take him there. As he goes, Shere Kahn attacks and they get separated. This lets Mowgli run into Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and Baloo (Bill Murray). Baloo tricks Mowgli into helping him get some honey he cannot reach and them promises to let him live a life of leisure in the jungle. Meanwhile, Shere Khan has killed the leader of the wolf pack and basically promises to keep killing hostages until Mowgli is handed over to him.

Bahgeera finds Mowgli again. He and Baloo argue. In the meantime, Mowgli saves a baby elephant with his gadgets. Oh, did I mention that Mowgli is every Asian kid ever put on screen by Steven Spielberg? Yep, he makes gadgets as needed to serve the script. (Good thing he's not fat or he wouldn't be able to stop eating.) Anyhoo, Mowgli runs away when Baloo agrees that he will only be safe in the village. This leads to King Louie (Christopher Walken), a bizarrely oversized ape inappropriately played like a mobster. Eventually, there's a final fight with Shere Khan.
Why This Film Wasn't Better

Generally speaking, Jungle Book was a good film. It held my attention and I didn't feel like I'd wasted my time or money. I do wonder though if I would have enjoyed it as much if I didn't have the original to pre-excite me about the film? I wonder this because throughout the movie I found myself most excited as I waited in anticipation to see how they would handle the introduction of the next iconic character. Watching the scenes themselves wasn't as interesting. So I wonder if I did not have a pre-love of the film coming in, would I have been as interested in this film? I'm not sure. One thing I do know, however, is that this film handicapped itself with a number of typical modern Hollywood mistakes.

The first mistake was the desire to fill every role with a famous actor: Elba, Walken, Murray, Johansson, Kingsley, etc. This has become par for the course in Hollywood because they think this will bring fans of the actors into the film. Unfortunately, few named actors are any good at voice work. And when you hire them to play themselves, as they did with Walken, you get some awful moments.
The problem here, at a fundamental level, was that many of the voices never fit. Elba and Kingsley were fine. Murray lacked the bass to play a giant bear and came across more as Garfield (a character his voice suited much more appropriately). Even without knowing the original Baloo as a comparison, Murray's Baloo voice was too small and too weak. Johansson was a mistake too. Now, I don't care that they made Kaa a woman, but they definitely picked the wrong woman. First of all, let's be honest: women in Hollywood are so interchangeable that there was no point in attaching a famous name to the voice. Her voice, like a bevy of other blonde T&A models, simply lacks interest, character or gravitas. It was entirely too bland to represent a giant, hypnotic python. For that, the voice needed to be more unsettlingly sweet. It needed a layer of menace. It needed an actress who could add those qualities to her voice, i.e. a genuine voice actress.

The real crime though was King Louie. The original King Louie is an amazing character. He's an insane-ish ape who has surrounded himself with fools so he can play the king who would be man. Voiced by the incomparable Louie Prima, he stand unique in the world of cartoon villains as a complex character who wants something so simple, yet so impossible, and wrongly thinks Mowgli can give it to him. Walken loses all of that subtlety, as well as Louie's charm. He plays Louie as if he were the Godfather, only with Walken's semi-retarded speaking style. This doesn't fit the jungle, or the movie, or the character.
None of these mistakes kill the movie, though Louie comes close, but they detract. Louie sucks. Baloo isn't all he should be. Kaa becomes forgettable.

The film does an amazing job with CGI, by the way. All of the landscapes are CGI and you'll never be able to tell. The sets are gorgeous and pull you into the jungle in a fantastic way. The only real flaw is again King Louis. His was made too large to make sense in this world.

The other problem is character. Character remains a problem for modern Hollywood, as again seen in this film. In the animated film, Shere Khan is pure menace with class, always acting with reason. Baloo is a true, loyal friend who just happens to be irresponsible when it comes to life. Bahgeera is a loyal friend, but a worrier. Louie we've already discussed. Kaa is a menacing villain, but a coward. And Mowgli... Mowgli really is the main character. The story is about him meeting these characters as he tries to run away from his fear so he can remain in childhood forever. He is eventually forced to face his fears, to grow up, and to become a man. This is symbolized in the end when Mowgli goes to the man village of his own accord to be with the girl.
The remake lost most of that. In this film, Shere Khan is menace for the sake of menace. His motivation in hating Mowgli is messy and confused. It's implied that it's part sport, part fear of Mowgli getting fire, and part revenge for an injury Shere Khan suffered while killing Mowgli's father. Baloo is Garfield... a snarky reluctant hero. Kaa is a plot point. And Mowgli... well, Mowgli's just passing through the film as we watch the other characters do their thing. He's not looking to grow up. He's not running from any fear. In fact, he's not afraid of Shere Khan at all. He's not looking to grow up or become a man either, and he doesn't leave for the village at the end -- he remains perpetually a child in the jungle. What drives his character eventually is revenge as he learns that Shere Khan killed his father... because every event in a film must be tightly connected to the main character these days. Heaven help you if the final fight of the film doesn't sprout from the seeds of cosmic destiny.

Hollywood has lost the ability to tell a story that can be universally understood. A boy running from his fears is universally understood. A boy becoming a man is universally understood. The struggle between the worrier and the irresponsible is universally understood. Villains who act out of self-preservation (Kaa), fear (Khan), and jealousy (Louie) are understood. These are all things each of us experiences in our lives and things we instantly recognize and understand. But this film has none of those. This film replaces all of that with a standard revenge film and a series of set pieces.

That's why even though this wasn't a bad film, it wasn't a great film either and it certainly wasn't anywhere near the level of the original.
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Monday, June 13, 2016

Ghost-bust-in-the-making

You know they're remaking Ghostbusters, right? Well, things aren't going well and it's the fault of all you misogynist men!! It's not MY movie that sucks, it's you!! Boo hoo hoo! Good grief.

Let me start with the obvious. Ghostbusters is a classic film. It should not be remade. It is impossible to take a movie like this, where everything in it was just perfect, and improve it... lightening in a bottle cannot happen twice. The best you can do is make a poor knock off. What's more, NO ONE was calling out for this film to be remade because it didn't have any weaknesses that could be fixed or alternatives that could be explored. But the powers that be in Moneywood crave money. So they decided to remake Ghostbusters.

Having decided to start down this path of doom, they hired a hack -- Paul Feig -- who did what hacks always do. He decided to hire current "names" to fill the roles and let them do their thing. In other words, he decided not to make "Ghostbusters," he decided to make a Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig film that uses Ghostbusters as a setting. If you watch the trailer, you will see this. You will see McCarthy doing her "I'm fat and stupid" routine over and over and Wiig doing her "I'm an incompetent drunken slut" routine. So not only does no one want to see Ghostbusters exploited, but the people who would do not want to see a McCarthy/Wiig comedy vehicle. That's like giving Gone With The Wind to Judd Apatow.
That's bad.

Then Feig made his brilliant decision (snicker). He did what hacks always do in this situation. He made sure to change the genders of the characters because that generates controversy and scores free publicity. It outrages the fans who don't want to see the characters they love pointlessly changed and they spread the word because they can't stop talking, it brings the approval of Hollywood feminists because it means women replacing men, and it gives the hack a big smuggie.

Finally, said hack films the most pathetic, washed out, derivative crap you can imagine using the new cast.

Well, they released the first trailer and waited for the kudos to come streaming in. Instead, they got sh*t on. The trailer promptly became the most hated trailer of all time on Youtube. The production was in trouble. So what is a hack to do? Well, Feig and his team have gone on the offensive. They are telling everyone that if you don't like this film, it's because you are a woman hater... a misogynist. Yep. Here's a quote from a recent discussion Feig gave on the subject:
“I have been hit with some of the worst misogynistic stuff,” said Feig, adding that prior to Ghostbusters he was oblivious to the darker sides of the internet. “I used to [hear] that people had haters and I was, like, 'How does that happen?'”
Uh no. The problem isn't that you did the film with chicks. The problem is that (1) you did the film, (2) you made the most derivative crap imaginable -- watch the trailer and you will groan at how overused the jokes are and how oblivious the actresses seem to the fact they are blandly repeating things that have been done a million times, (3) you turned Ghostbusters into a vehicle for two lousy single-note comedians, and (4) you are getting snotty about the criticism.

The first trailer was truly awful. It included things like the fat girl trying to crowd surf at a concert and getting dropped. Yawn. This weekend, I saw a new trailer. It has removed some of the most obviously hack material, but it includes things like one of the characters explaining to each of the others who they are as characters and what their skills are. Talk about hack writing! The rest looks like filler. The audience I saw the trailer with didn't react once to any moment in the trailer. That's how bad it was. It might as well have been an add to go buy insurance in the lobby.

There are times I wish I could short a movie. This thing is a horrible idea done about as poorly as possible and now they are trying to shame people into seeing it because their attempt at generating controversy blew up on them. In fact, I'm laughing that Feig's cynical attempt to anger fans resulted in actual fan anger and has cost him big time. His failure is well deserved.

Thoughts?
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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Update...

Sorry about the lack of film reviews lately. The scheduling issues should be over starting this week and I expect to start having two articles each week again from now on -- Tuesday and Friday. I'm still debating if I should do more Summer of 70s films or start Summer of 80s or perhaps Summer of Classics. Any thoughts?
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Monday, June 6, 2016

Alternate Ending: Return of the Jedi

For a long time now, the ending of Return of the Jedi has bothered me. Despite having such a great setup from the first two movies, I've often felt that the ending of Return of the Jedi was weak. The impact is missing. Well, I was thinking about this last weekend and it finally struck me both what was wrong with the ending and how to improve it.

The problem as I see it with the ending of Return of the Jedi is that it lacks emotional punch. This comes from the characters not being consistent with their motivations. For example, Luke has been taught to be "a Jedi." We are told over and over that a Jedi will not fight out of anger. Luke accepts this and even lets himself be captured by Vader with the hope of turning him to the good side. This is reminiscent of Ben Kenobi letting Vader kill him, a tremendously emotional moment.

But Lucas doesn't know how to write a dramatic ending without a fight, so he gives Luke a pretext to get angry and start fighting -- the discovery that Leah is a Jedi. That's both inconsistent with his Jedi training and it makes all of his motivations throughout the earlier part of the film irrelevant. Essentially, Luke's Jedi training is now pointless.

Vader also gets shortchanged. Vader was once good, but got co-opted. Luke thinks he can be saved and there is some hint of that, but Vader doesn't really struggle with it at all until the Emperor is on the verge of killing Luke. Then he suddenly saves Luke and thereby saves himself. Meh. Too easy, too obvious.

The Emperor too gets shortchanged. He has this influence over Vader, but he never gets to show it. There is no struggle for Vader's soul. He sucks at converting Luke too. And besides that, this most powerful of Sith Lords is basically chairbound.

The result of these defects is that the finale of the film, the climax of climaxes... is kinda dull. Want proof? Ask yourself if anyone talks about the lightsaber battle being all that special.

So think about this instead...

The scene begins aboard the Death Star. Luke has given himself up to convert Vader. It seems to have failed. The Emperor makes a sales pitch to Luke, but Luke holds firm. Luke, at the same time, keeps trying to convert Vader. Finally, the Emperor decides to switch to torture. When he does, Luke frees himself and escapes into the dark maze of the unfinished room.

The Emperor orders Vader to hunt Luke down and kill him. Vader, however, shows conflicting emotion and hesitates. His hesitation angers the Emperor. The Emperor takes his own lightsaber and goes after Luke, leaving Vader out of the chase.

As the Emperor hunts Luke, Luke is doing his best to re-awaken Anakin Skywalker inside Vader by talking about father-son relationships. It frustrates the Emperor that he needs to fight Luke for Vader's soul and he becomes increasingly angry. Meanwhile, Luke remains calm. He refuses to draw his lightsaber. He knows he cannot beat the Emperor in a fight because the Emperor is too good of a swordsman, plus he knows that if he draws his lightsaber, Vader will respond instinctively to the danger and will revert to the Dark Side. He also realizes that if he does fight, he will violate his Jedi beliefs and will corrupt himself. Hence, he is stuck with nonviolence.

Finally, the Emperor finds Luke and starts destroying the object blocking him from Luke. At this point, Vader finally loses control and blocks the Emperor's blow. The Emperor pushes him aside and says that he has taken everything else from Vader, he will now take his son. Vader goes into rage mode and brutally attacks the Emperor with his lightsaber. The Emperor is stunned by the force Vader uses because he combines both the Force and the Dark Side of the Force in his attack because he now has a foot in both camps. Vader overpowers the Emperor and knocks him to the ground with his blows. Then in one final strike, Vader hits the Emperor's lightsaber so hard that he cuts through the Emperor's lightsaber blade (a seeming impossibility) and kills the Emperor. However, using this much force mortally wounds Vader and he dies after a quick discussion with Luke about regret.

The end.

I think this would be much more true to the ideals of the characters. I think the battle for Vader's soul would be much more dramatic than the half-assed lightsaber fight between Vader and Luke. I think the symbolism of cutting the Emperor's lightsaber in half would be amazing and would become the most talked about moment in the entire series. It would also finish the same cirle of betrayal that the Emperor started when he got Vader to betray Ben.

Thoughts?
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Monday, May 30, 2016

Guest Review: Orca (1977)

by Rustbelt

Orcinus Orca. Doesn’t that name just scream terror, horror, and everything else that makes your blood run cold? What, no? Really? Why not? It’s a KILLER whale! Maybe it’s because we’re just used to images of tamed versions of these whales doing tricks at Sea World, which we would never expect out of a carcharodon carcharias. Maybe, because they’re air-breathing mammals like us, we can’t conceive of them performing acts of cruelty, like a carcharodon carcharias. Maybe it’s because some of us mistakenly think they’re just too cute to be evil, unlike the carcharodon carcharias. Or maybe you saw this film that took the leather-jacket-wearing cool out of killer whales forever.

We have the insanity of Italian super-producer Dino de Laurentiis to thank for this celluloid headache. Apparently, after watching Jaws - which he must have thought was a minor indie film that no one would recognize or interpret as having been copied - he ordered his producer “by the bones of Amen-Kara, and the many moons of Jupiter to find a fish tougher and more terrible than the great white!” Orca was born.
The Plot

Orca is the doomed story of Richard Harris, a fisherman in Newfoundland who captures sea creatures for aquariums. His name is Nolan, but we’ll call him Quody as he seems to be a combination of Jaws’s Captain Quint and Chief Brody. He rescues a pretty (duh!) marine biologist named Dr. Bedford (let’s call her ‘Hoopette!’), from a great white shark. Said shark is then eaten by a killer whale. Duh, duh, duuuhhh...
We then see Hoopette is about as sane as Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park III, lecturing her students on how killer whales are the most intelligent, creative, understanding, formidable, and psychic (?!) creatures in the universe. Perhaps this is only to set up Quody’s next move, as he shows as much intelligence as the average mid-card victim in a Friday the 13th flick. (You know, the one who- 70 minutes in - walks into a dark room where Jason couldn’t possibly be hiding because they heard a kitty and want to comfort it. How precious…ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma!) Okay, back to this film...

Quody’s crew captures another killer whale. Complications arise when the creature miscarriages on deck and the whale’s mate - the one that earlier killed the shark - screams in agony. He attacks the boat, killing one seaman and injuring crewmember Bo Derek. The FIEND! Cutting his losses, and ignoring the black market bounty he could collect from Planned Parenthood, Quody dumps the corpses overboard and heads back to port. To his astonishment, he finds the female on the beach the next day, with the living whale still screaming at him from a distance. Hoopette arrives to tell him it’s a challenge and it will be a fight to the death between them. Uh-huh...
From here on, it’s your standard revenge between a bully and the reluctant challenger being pulled into a main event showdown. In rapid order, the whale destroys some boats, breaks vital fuel lines, sinks Quody’s dockside home, bites off Bo Derek’s leg (that TERRIBLE fiend!), and performs leaps. Quody, Hoopette, and some redshirts then head out to sea, following the whale to the site of Seaside Springslam ’77.

After killing the redshirts, the whale sinks the boat near some icebergs and traps Quody on an ice island by breaking a berg and pushing it all by itself. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. You know, this scene has raised questions and been commented on by several notables. Those comments, among others, include:
Science: “I quit.”
The Civil Ice Patrol: “Why are we wasting our lives out here?”
The Wreck of the Titanic: “YOU GOTTA BE KIDDIN’ ME!”
Long story short, the whale flips Quody through the air to his death. The whale dives under the ice, presumably to its death by drowning. Hoopette waits on a ‘berg as a chopper arrives to rescue her.

What Went Wrong?

What went wrong? How about the starring beast? As noted, the killer whale was selected because it can potentially be seen as more dangerous than the great white. And, indeed, such whales have been known to kill great whites in real life. The problem, however, lies in the portrayal.

The whale is shown as having human-level intelligence and emotions. And while humanization might seem like a good idea, it reaches levels of sheer absurdity. How does the whale know where Quody lives? How would it know when he’s on the beach in order to scream at him? How would it know the importance of fuel lines and that cutting them would hurt the village and cause the villagers to turn against Quody? I’ll stop here before I fill the page.
Also, we see the creature too much. There are tons of shots of the whale swimming through an obvious pool filled with non-ocean, green-tinted water matched against an unconvincing miniature of Quody’s dockside house on a blue set that doesn’t fit the floor plan of the soundstage the actors inhabit. All the while, the whale swims like it’s playing around at Sea World with Flipper. Though, Ennio Morriconne’s Halloween-esque music says it should be plotting in a dungeon with Freddy Kreuger. Uh, tone and buildup, anyone? This film is trying way too hard while going in all the wrong directions.

Contrast that with Jaws, where the shark was presented as a force of nature. It kills and eats people because that’s what it does. It doesn’t pick targets. The problems on land - the fear and devastation of the summer tourist season- are natural, believable, and very real reactions. No personal vendettas are needed. Add in the fact that we don’t see the shark very much (a move forced by problems with the mechanical shark), which makes it feel like a presence that could appear at any time or place. ‘Less is more’ is definitely preferable for this scenario.

Bland, Boring Humans

In many ways Orca desperately wants to be an art house version of Jaws. The characters philosophize endlessly about the Quody-whale feud and go back-and-forth with changing opinions every five minutes. It’s like the possible result of Joss Whedon and Vince Russo being fused into one, terrible playwright.

We get a lot of arty shots of the whale, the village, and underwater ice. There are even several shots of Quody and the whale reflected in each other’s eyes. Okay, etheral camerawork. We get it. Or maybe they were trying to distract us from the characters, all of whom seem to be suffering from bipolar disorder. Think about this:

Quody starts as a tough fisherman. After the female whale washes up on the beach, he goes cowardly and refuses to fight the surviving whale. Then, he claims he’s worried about other peoples’ safety, but after his house is destroyed and he gets berated by everyone he knows, he goes full Ahab and heads out after the animal, no matter how many die.

Hoopette... um, whose side is she on? At first, she’s a classic misanthrope who admires whales more than people. She berates Quody and calls him a barbarian for killing the female whale, but then she calls him a coward for not meeting the whale’s challenge. Then she interferes with his first attempt to kill the whale with dynamite. But then, on the iceberg, she demands that he shoot the thing. On behalf of all men, I would like to say: “Make up your mind, lady!” She must only exist to point the plot in the direction the filmmakers are guessing it should go.

And then there’s the crew who are loyal to Quody until the boat goes too far north and gets covered in ice like the Time Bandit during opie season. Each one decides it’s time to turn back, attempts to change the boat’s course, and gets eaten by the whale in due course. (I guess the whale won’t let common sense intervene any more than Hoopette.) The Wise Old Indian who goes with them suffers the same fate.
In Jaws, we have no caricatures. Everyone acts the way we would expect them to act. The mayor, the tourists, law enforcement, etc. all make sense. We spend most of the film watching their reactions, which draws us into the story. Fortunately, they’re also distinct, memorable, and highly quotable. Plus, their personalities play perfectly into the conclusion. For instance, once the equally egotistical Quint and Hooper are out of the way, Brody - who hates the water - is left to face the shark himself. (Did any one else notice that Quint is ultimately overconfident, as Hooper implies? Or that Hooper, at the end, is a clear coward, as Quint implies?) We’re so invested in his feud with the shark and the scene itself that it’s easy to forget the tank probably wouldn’t explode like that. Who cares? Screw you, Mythbusters! This scenes rules!

No such thing in Orca.
Aftermath

This movie was a bust, for obvious reasons. However, it seems to have been a favorite of Richard Harris, who defended the film all the way to his Marcus Aurelius days. However, the bosses at Universal Studios didn’t share Harris’ affections. Two years later, in 1979, one of the opening scenes of Jaws 2 featured a badly mutilated killer whale carcass washed up on the beach and a scientist telling Chief Brody that there are nastier predators in the ocean. Whether this is a case of “Take that!” or a total F-U, I will let you be the judge.

So, what do you guys think?
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